Shifting was a near-instantaneous transport – there was maybe a second or two as you disappeared where you were still aware of the place you were leaving, and less than a second to recognise something about the place you had teleported into.
Travelling by mirror had the world go rainbow at the edges, then transport you even more quickly than a shift.
Whichever way they were travelling now was a world away from either of those disappear-reappear options.
Hook walked them forward, each step taking them past ghostly echoes of buildings, each step taking them far further than the distance traversed by their feet.
The world around them wasn’t exactly cold, but it was the cool before a rainstorm.
After a few more steps, he spun them quickly, and colour came back to the world as they broke away from their cool, grey walk behind the world.
The place there were now looked like the Agency, had the decor been picked out by a team with a sense of fun. Bright colours popped everywhere – creating a harmony, rather than ugly chaos; flowers larger than her bloomed in corners, and fae bustled through – putting her very much in the mind of the halls of the Tech Department.
Detail after detail processed, and after a moment, she looked up at her Captain. ‘This is your Agency, isn’t it? Or whatever you call it.’
He nodded at her. ‘It is. And I hope that’s alright with you. None of my other charges have reached as high as you, and although it is gauche, I need to ask for your help.’
‘Whatever I can do,’ she said, meaning every word. ‘I owe you that much, Captain.’
He crooked his arm to her again, and she followed him through the “Agency” of imaginary friends and their cohorts.
‘Captain,’ she started.
‘I will never drop this guise,’ he said, ‘not unless you specifically request it. To do otherwise would be a betrayal. I know you are no longer a child, but this is the face you know, and it is one I am comfortable wearing.’
‘I have questions,’ she said. ‘They’re not important, but they’re also ones I wanted to ask you, not just pull up on the Agency wiki.’
‘You may ask one for now,’ he said, as he released her arm, then turned to unlock an office door.
‘Are you like Ryan? Like an agent?’
‘No,’ Hook said as he pushed the door wide. ‘My dear, I am something far closer to you. I was born human, I’m now something more.’ He turned to her, his blue eyes still sad. ‘The story is yours to hear, should you wish to, but another day.’
The office was almost ridiculously like Ryan’s – a desk, a couch, a coffee table. The difference was in the details – in that, there were details. Ryan’s space was Spartan, his few touches of personality few and far between, as though he was worried about disturbing a pristine space.
Hooks’s office held framed art, and a hundred photos of children. Small knickknacks lines shelves, and crayon drawings wallpapered a three-metre wide section of wall near his desk.
Her Captain sat on the couch. ‘One of my charges is in danger, and I am unable to help him.’ He pulled a photo from the pocket of his coat, and held it out towards her.
Stef walked forward, and took the photo, then sat on the couch beside him. The photo was of a happy-looking boy – probably six or seven years old. ‘Austin,’ Hook said. ‘Son of a recruit and an agent. His mother died. His father is…not raising the boy well. He thinks his child is weak, and he is doing everything he can to make him less so.’
‘Changing his mind, dear heart.’ Sadness etched itself onto Hook’s face. ‘There is no feasible limit, that I know of, to how much the system can change a person’s mind. With pure humans, the process is harder, as it is hard to make programming stick outside System areas, but for a child whose heart is half blue…that agent could pull away everything that makes that little boy himself.’
She nodded. ‘So, um, Ryan could probably help with this. He knows Agency procedure and stuff better than I do. Cause this has to be against, like, eighty rules. We can get him out and safe.’
‘Dear heart, I may have already liberated the lad.’
Hook looked embarrassed. ‘He was in danger. I couldn’t take the chance that-’
Stef pressed her index fingers to her temples. ‘You. Ryan. Why do all the men I know break the rules when it comes to kids?’
A small smile finally settled on her Captain’s face. ‘For those of us in a position to do something, to do nothing would be evil.’ He laid a hand on hers. ‘I do always regret not stealing you away to live amongst us, even if your story did have a happy turnabout, so I couldn’t allow myself to be idle once again.’
‘It’s you, so I’m going to trust your intentions with this kidnapping. So you want me to do…what, then?’
‘You know Agency protocol – there will be fallout, and though we do not generally seek justice for our charges, I do not want this man to go unpunished. Agents are to be protectors, if he cannot even do that for his own son, he has no claim to the position in protecting the world at large.’ Hook hesitated. ‘And, if at all possible, I want the Agency to help reverse what was done to him.’ Hook reached forward and picked up the photo. ‘So far as I understand it, his father filtered his mind each time he took an interest in something that couldn’t be applied to the life of an agent.’ A tear slipped down Hook’s cheek. ‘He doesn’t even like kicking a ball around anymore.’
‘Are you Hook to him as well, Captain?’
Hook nodded. ‘His mother read him the tale. He liked the idea of ships more than he did flying.’ He stared straight ahead, his eyes fixed on a point across the room. ‘He hadn’t called for me in a long time, so I went to check on him. He didn’t remember me.’ Hook turned to her. ‘You asked me to leave, dear heart. I know you don’t remember that now, but at the time, it was what you wanted. You asked me to leave…Austin didn’t get that chance.’
‘So that’s why-’
‘I do not value myself that highly,’ Hook said. ‘But when I saw that the photos of his mother had disappeared, I felt honour-bound to abscond with him. No child should be made to forget a parent.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘In the hospital wing. We’ve told him that we need to run some tests. We’ve been vague.’ Hook lifted his head. ‘I was wondering, perhaps- We could send in someone in a suit, but you are an agent, you would be able to play the role with veracity, could you-?’
‘Go in, calm him down, then…run and get my dad and Jonesy so we can begin to fix this?’
‘I would be indebted.’
‘You’re family, Captain,’ she said, without fear at saying the word, ‘there’s never debts between family.’
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